Five Puget Sound Women's Peace Camp protesters are arrested inside the Kent Boeing Aerospace Center's cruise missile facility on September 26, 1983.

  • By Jim Kershner
  • Posted 12/04/2013
  • Essay 10677

On September 26, 1983, five Puget Sound Women's Peace Camp protesters are arrested inside the Kent Boeing Aerospace Center's cruise missile facility. Susan James, Kristen Delaney (1961-1985), Tammy Jo Dunakin, Cynthia Nelson, and Leslie Redtree are charged with criminal trespass and criminal impersonation. The five women are part of a peace group that has camped outside Boeing's cruise-missile production facility since June. The women had homemade Boeing identification badges and strolled into the facility without being challenged. They walked around the building for more than an hour and talked to workers. One will claim to have actually touched a cruise missile. Boeing security officials are finally notified and call Kent police. All five will later be convicted of criminal trespass, and three will ultimately spend 16 days in jail.  

Women for Peace

The Puget Sound Women's Peace Camp in Kent was officially opened on June 18, 1983, on a site directly across the road from the Boeing Aerospace Center, 17 miles south of Seattle. It was the third in a series of women's peace camps. Two others were already established in Seneca, New York, at a storage/transshipment site for cruise missiles, and in Greenham Common, England, at a deployment site for cruise missiles.

An opening-day peace-camp flyer said the Kent camp would complete "a chain of women acting in opposition to all phases of Cruise development" (Buehler). The Boeing Aerospace Center manufactured computer-guided cruise missiles and had contracts to deliver 1,499 of them to the United States Air Force. They were designed to be carried on B-52 bombers and to carry nuclear warheads.

At first, the women had trouble finding land to lease near the Boeing plant for their controversial camp. The City of Kent eventually leased them the land around an arts and crafts center within sight of the plant. Kent Mayor Isabel K. Hogan (1921-2015) broke a 3-3 tie in a city council vote to approve the lease. When Hogan cast the deciding vote, she was wearing a peace camp button with the words, "My Country is the Whole World" ("Kent Leases"). Hogan also marched in one of the camp's early demonstrations. The lease was for $600 a month.

The number of women in the camp averaged around 40, but varied almost daily as new people arrived and others left. One resident of the camp, Jan Buehler, described the daily routine in a scholarly article she wrote in 1985:

"A typical camp day began with a morning circle ritual in which those women who had stayed the night introduced themselves and 'checked in,' that is, gave a statement of how they were feeling, how long they had been at the camp, whether they were arriving, staying, or leaving. Then the elder for the day led the women in a group solidarity activity or two, such as a brief meditation or song or physical exercise. This ritual was immediately followed by the morning meeting in which women volunteered for the various daily maintenance tasks: dishwashing; preparation of the evening communal meal; tidying up the grounds/information building; greeting newcomers; signing up for night watch. Political actions for the day and evening were briefly reviewed. ... The residents then proceeded to carry out their assigned maintenance tasks, attend to their own personal maintenance, or engage in planning some particular political activity. ...  In the early evening hours, there was most often a scheduled seminar, workshop, or planning meeting. Many of the educational events were open to the public and were attended by men and women. Planning meetings were for women only" (Buehler).

Typically, the group's political action consisted of handing out flyers. "Thousands of flyers were handed out to residents in the communities of Kent, Auburn and [Renton]," wrote Buehler. "A favorite locale for leafleting was street fairs, but we also went to shopping malls and town squares. The camp's guerilla theater troupe often performed at these locations" (Buehler).

Peace Work at Boeing

However, leafleting Boeing workers was "central to the camp's political action" and was done Mondays through Fridays (Buehler). In the early days of the camp, women "had entered the parking lots at Boeing, talking with workers and offering them leaflets" (Buehler). After Boeing objected, the women "engaged in the risky business of dodging cars" at the intersection of S 212th Street and 64th Avenue S and "attempting to get people to take our leaflets as they waited through long red lights in their cars" (Buehler).

A few women quietly resolved to engage in an act of civil disobedience by entering the Boeing plant itself and speaking with workers on the job. Five of them made fake Boeing identity badges and on September 26, 1983, during a shift change, they walked through the Boeing gates and directly into the plant. They said they never even had to show their hand-drawn ID badges.

They spent over an hour talking with workers, "encouraging them to join in resisting production of the missiles" (Buehler). They strived to be courteous to the workers and to live up to the group's Unity Statement, which specified that they be "filled with respect for people's physical and spiritual well-being" and "love of the earth and her creatures" (Buehler). Susan James said she actually placed a hand on a cruise missile, although Boeing officials said that the women never penetrated into a high-security area.

"After a while, people started realizing that we might not have had Boeing's permission to be in there," said Redtree. "A few people I talked to said they agreed with me -- but didn't I realize I was going to be in a lot of trouble?" (Smith, "Protesters").

Getting Arrested, and Keeping On

Boeing security officers finally confronted them and called Kent police. The five women then sat down and had to be carried out of the plant. All five were charged with criminal trespassing and criminal impersonation, although the criminal impersonation charges were later dropped. The women viewed their action "as educational for the workers, arresting officers, judge and jury" (Buehler).

As the five women awaited trial, the Women's Peace Camp continued its presence at Boeing. As fall arrived, a core group of campers moved to a rented house just a few blocks from the plant. They staged the camp's biggest protest on October 24, 1983, in which they planned to encircle the entire perimeter of Boeing. Kent police estimated the crowd at about 800 and The Seattle Times reported that the line "fell far short of the 3-mile perimeter, but stretched a mile along the south and east borders of the plant" ("Flowers, Dissent").

"Our numbers don't matter because our energy is so strong," said Susan James ("Flowers, Dissent").

The five women pled not guilty because, in the words of James, "we are following a higher moral law" ("Women plead"). They went to trial on December 5, 1983, at Aukeen District Court in Auburn. During the three-day trial, the women attempted to employ a defense evoking international law, "allowing people to use whatever means necessary to stop a threat against humanity" ("Jury Convicts").  Judge Darrell Phillipson did not allow them to use that defense. After four hours of deliberation, a jury found all five guilty of criminal trespass.

On February 27, 1984, all five women were sentenced to 180 days in jail and a $500 fine. Phillipson suspended the sentences on the condition that they pay court costs, do 25 hours of community service, and have no further violations. Delaney and Nelson chose to meet those conditions, but the other three -- Redtree, James, and Dunakin -- chose not to comply with the conditions. A peace camp member told reporters that Delaney and Nelson believed going to jail would be "admitting what they did was wrong," while the other three believed that working the community service would be admitting they were wrong, so those three chose to go to jail ("Camp protesters"). Phillipson, however, reduced the jail terms to 16 days for all three. While at the King County Jail, Redtree, James, and Dunakin began fasting as a means of protest, but they served out their jail term without further incident.

Puget Sound Women's Peace Camp held a second summer encampment at Kent in 1984, but "far fewer women participated" (Buehler). The camp remained at the rented house until September 1984.

By 1985, the Puget Sound Women's Peace Camp had disbanded. 


Jan Buehler, "The Puget Sound Women's Peace Camp: Education as an Alternative Strategy," Frontiers: A Journal of Women's Studies, Vol. 8, No. 2 (1985), p. 40-44; Carlton Smith, "Protesters 'infiltrate' Boeing Plant," The Seattle Times, September 28, 1983, p. A-18; "Flowers, Dissent Mark Protest at Boeing Plant," Ibid., October 25, 1983, p. B-1; "Jury Convicts Arms Protesters of Trespassing at Boeing," Ibid., December 9, 1983, p. A-21; "Five Cruise-missile Protesters Sentenced in Trespassing Case," Ibid., February 27, 1984, p. A-12; "Camp Protesters Earn 16-day Jail Stint," Ibid., July 10, 1984, p. A-9; "Kent Leases Land to Peace Camp," Ellensburg Daily Record, June 21, 1983, p. 5; "Women Plead Not Guilty in Boeing Plant Break-in," The Seattle Times, October 7, 1983, p. B-3.
Note: This entry was updated on October 24, 2018.

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